Diane Slis, 62, saw herself as healthy: she didn’t smoke, she exercised regularly and she ate a nutritious diet. After all, she’d seen her father – who smoked and was overweight – die of a heart attack when he was in his early fifties and lost her brother to a heart attack at age 60. Yet in January 2021, Diane was home alone shoveling her driveway after a snowfall when she felt pain in her chest that was so severe, she stopped and went inside to text her husband, Bryan. Can you call me back? It’s kind of urgent.
Fortunately, Bryan, who was in St. Louis, saw the text and immediately called Diane. “Her speech was slurred, she was in so much pain,” he said. “I called our neighbor, David, and asked him to take her to the hospital.”
But when David arrived, Diane didn’t seem to be in distress. “She was sitting in a chair, we were talking,” he said. “It didn’t seem all that serious.” But when Bryan called him, he said David needed to get Diane to the hospital right away.
On the way to the hospital, Diane passed out twice. “She didn’t wake up the second time,” David said, “I thought she was dead.”
At the hospital, a nurse called Bryan. She said, “We want you to know we’re doing everything we can for your wife, but we don’t have a heartbeat or a pulse.”
Bryan said, “So you’re telling me she passed away?”
“Just a minute,” the nurse said. When she came back on the phone, she said, “We just got a pulse.”
Bryan drove through winter storms to get back to Diane. “I felt very helpless,” he said. “I didn’t want her to die by herself.” She was unconscious when he arrived. “They said she had a less than five percent chance of survival. I never expected her to regain consciousness, but the next morning, she was awake. It’s a blessing.”
Dr. Blair MacPhail, the cardiologist who saw Diane at Goshen Hospital, explained that the team followed protocol for heart attack care and that she responded well to that care.
“Her case was remarkable because she made a full recovery. She had a ‘widow maker,’ meaning that the largest of the three arteries into the heart became unstable and closed off that artery,” he said. “The onset of her pain was the beginning of her heart attack and her acting on that pain saved her life.”
Diane, who went through cardiac rehab, continues to work at building up her strength and endurance. “Having a heart attack has helped me slow down,” she said. “When I’m tired now, I stop and rest—I never used to do that. I’m not a philosopher, but if I have advice for others, it’s simply to cherish every moment.”